Jax Beach dunes not tall enough for storm?

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - A Jacksonville Beach man is concerned about the dunes at northeast Florida beaches, saying they need to be higher in case a storm hits.

Mark Swann lives on the first floor of an oceanfront condo in Jacksonville Beach and says the dunes are just not big enough to protect the city in the event of a major hurricane. He said everything within a five-mile radius could be lost if a storm were to hit.

Swann said he knows the beach can't have dunes big enough to protect the city from every storm, but feels they need to be better maintained.

"There's no way we're going to stop a 28-foot surge, but how about a 5-foot surge or 20-foot surge? Now that starts to be doable," Swann said.

He loves taking walks on the beach and he wants to do whatever he can to protect it. He says he's not a beach or dune expert, but that it's not hard to notice that the dunes in Jacksonville and Neptune beaches are just not strong enough to withhold a major hurricane or storm surge.

"They are vital infrastructure, and with infrastructure you need to maintain them, you have to set certain standards and keep coming back," Swann said.

Coastal engineer and consultant for the city Kevin Bodge said the dunes are maintained and that Swann has legitimate concerns, adding that the current dunes wouldn't protect the city from a category four or five hurricane.

But Bodge said the dunes are never overlooked. The Dunes Project was started in the early 1990s by the city, and the Corps of Engineers regularly evaluates and maintains them. Swann believes they need to be taller and deeper.

Bodge said that's not a bad idea but said the dunes can only be built so high and so deep before there's not enough beach for recreational activities.

Swann said Hurricane Sandy is a perfect example as to why the dunes are so important.

"The communities that really worked on their dunes and spent money and gave permission for dunes to be raised and maintained and strengthened, they suffered very little damage from Hurricane Sandy," he said.

Another person on Swann's side is Neptune Beach Mayor Harriet Pruette. She said authorities need to look more into the matter.

Another project that Bodge said helps protect the dunes is the beach renourishment project, which is done every six to seven years and costs about $13 million each time.

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